Twenty disappointing essays intended to bring overlooked areas of American history under close scrutiny, by the former Librarian of Congress, author of The Exploring Spirit (1976), Republic of Technology (1978), and The Discoverers (1983). Boorstin's subtitle, ""Exploring Our Secret Past,"" suggests the collection has some inside angle or information to share. It doesn't. Instead, Boorstin has brought together a selection of tenuously related essays culled from four decades of work, few of which hold many secrets. In one piece we hear, with no great surprise, that unevenly distributed natural resources and great distances helped shape the course of American settlement; in another, that history really can't be viewed as occurring in neat century-long units of measure. When the author attempts to give us the inside dope on Paul Revere (to demonstrate, presumably, the tendency of national histories to mythologize), he merely succeeds in trivializing Revere with a mundane account of the Bostonian's business affairs. Though Boorstin has a strength in his quite adept facility with legal theory, even in his discussion of American law he tends to generalize and simplify issues into easy-to-follow, familiar dichotomies: Old World. New World, North-South, religious secular. As with his previous work, Boorstin is inclined to state the obvious--and, in this case, over the course of a very uneven collection that attempts to truckle down to an imagined layman, all too often to settle for the trite.